PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari was recently quoted as saying that it is better for all Nigerians to “jump into the sea and get drowned” than for Nigeria to divide. The president had his reasons. He said Nigeria fought a civil war which claimed over two million lives in order to remain united. This supreme sacrifice by Nigerians for Nigeria, he seems to be saying, cannot be thrown away just like that. The country, he also argued, is strong and united today because some people laid down their lives. For these reasons, he said he would not allow “kids” promoting the agitation for the division of the country to have their way.
A few weeks into this outburst, the president is already living up to his vow. His army and police have descended mercilessly on defenceless Biafran agitators, killing scores of them. The president has also deployed warships and fighter jets to track down militants who have been blowing up oil installations in the Niger Delta.
Curiously, however, the president has taken no action against Fulani herdsmen whose murderous activities have become a clear threat to national unity. Maybe someone should remind the president that if Biafran agitators and Niger Delta militants are a threat to national unity, armed Fulani herdsmen are much more so.
There is no doubt that the president is passionate about the idea of one Nigeria. But his passion appears to be driven by sectional, if not self-serving factors. That may explain why he has ignored or overlooked the historical fact that no country has ever survived two civil wars. If he is truly conscious of that, he will be less belligerent in his declarations and actions on Biafra, Niger Delta militancy or any other separatist agitation in the country. The president is probably under the illusion that a segment of the country will rise against the federation in the way it once happened with the possible consequence of an armed struggle.
Regardless of this extremity in language use by the president, we must indulge him by overlooking his flagellations about war and suicide and, instead, address our minds to the idiosyncratic convictions and motivations that inflame the language of passion in some old breed Nigerians.
We will, without relying so much on the passions of the Buharis, the Obasanjos and the Gowons of this country about one Nigeria, agree that the country, ideally, is better of as a united entity. We need not elaborate on this here. Suffice it to say that the aforementioned veterans are essentially driven by one passion. They do not want their labours over a united Nigeria to be in vain. Having fought in their individual and collective capacities to keep the country one, they would not want to witness a reversal of this in their life time. That is why they are always on edge whenever any reference, no matter how casual, is made to the possible disintegration of Nigeria.
However, in holding on to their passions, it is doubtful if any of these civil war veterans has stopped to reason or find out why their counterparts from the defunct Biafra do not share in their passion. Eastern elders of the generation of Obasanjo, Buhari and Gowon may not step out to call for division of Nigeria. They know it will be reckless to do so. But they will also not come out in the way the northern and western elders under reference have been doing to defend and uphold the idea of a united Nigeria. Their attitude to all the talk about an indivisible and indissoluble Nigeria borders on the cynical. They are not persuaded by it.
So, why do the sentiments of Nigerians differ on this matter? Why are the people of eastern Nigeria, to a very large extent, persuaded differently? To pigeonhole this issue, we must take into consideration the fact that life is essentially driven by contraries. If progress must be made in life, those who operate together or are in competition with others must recognize that there is more than one way of seeing reality. Reality, strictly speaking, is multi-faceted. When you hold on to your point of view and refuse to acknowledge or recognise the other’s, you are, willy nilly, creating an atmosphere for conflict.
If we live in a country whose leaders are truly passionate about its survival and growth, we will be chiding ourselves for our indignant attitude towards national cohesion and integration. But what is the case here is that different Nigerians operate from different prisms in this matter. Each sounds as sanctimonious as he can. When therefore the likes of Buhari, Gowon and Obasanjo speak on this subject matter, they do so from the angle that suits them. They do not go for the big picture. If it were not so, Buhari would not have flown off the handle the way he has done. Because he has chosen to remain deliberately selective on this issue, he can afford to dismiss the ongoing agitation for Biafra as the brainchild of “kids” who were not there when the Biafran war raged. He can also blindly condemn the Niger Delta militants without sparing a thought on their worries. It is the same deliberate selectiveness that has made it possible for the president not to see anything injurious in the terrorist activities of Fulani herdsmen. But if Buhari wants to appreciate the issue for what it is, he must recognise that the issue here is the prevailing social and political conditions of the country. A president that wishes his country well and wants it to stick together will address those knotty issues rather than roll out the tanks to mow down those who do not share his passions.
So far, we can safely say that those who have been breathing down on the rest of us about the indivisibility and indissolubility of Nigeria are myopic. They are living in the past. They have not taken our present realities into consideration. The reality of our situation is that Nigeria, as presently constituted, needs a surgical operation. There are lots of foreign bodies within the Nigerian system that need to be excised from the system so that it does not suffocate to death. If I were those who hold so dearly to the idea of one Nigeria, I will readily ensure that those infelicities in the Nigerian system that are inhibiting peaceful coexistence and national cohesion are done away with.
One of such anomalous situations is the unbridled arrogance of the new terrorists whom we have mistakenly been calling Fulani herdsmen. Since these terrorists carried out their organised massacre in Enugu state, many have come to agree that we are no longer dealing with herdsmen. We are, instead, dealing with murderous marauders and invaders on a mission of annihilation.
That is not all. The government also protects them by not going after them or asking questions about the source of their arms. That was why the president made no reference to them in his Democracy Day speech while he threatened fire and brimstone on Niger Delta militants and Biafran agitators. The president’s selectiveness makes the armed herdsmen look like a special breed that every one else must submit to.
Those who make noise about one indivisible Nigeria ought to be appalled by this. They ought to know that this army of occupation that is terrorizing the country is the real threat to the unity of the country. They are more dangerous than the unarmed, harmless agitator for an equitable Nigeria.
President Buhari should tread cautiously lest his passion for a united Nigeria ends up to be a misguided one.